Sex According To John Irving
Later this year, John Irving will turn 70 and, more important, publish the probing, bighearted novel In One Person (May 8), about a bisexual man named Billy Abbott and the unforgettable label-defiers he meets over the course of the decades.
What attracts you to writing about sexual orientation and now bisexuals in particular?
Those people whom society deems as misfits have always appealed to me. In my day, there was a deep-set conviction that bisexual men don’t exist, that they’re just gay men with one foot in the closet. These types of characters attract me because I fear for them. I worry about who might harm these people who are hated by the sexual mainstream. There’s enormous sexual disapproval in this country — anything outside sex after marriage is termed ”promiscuous.” Well, anybody who’s had a life has been promiscuous at one time or another, and I hope they’d have the balls to be proud of it.
You often get asked if your work is autobiographical. Does that bother you?
I don’t think I’ve had a very interesting life, and that is a great liberation. It means that anything I can imagine is better than anything that happened…. In all the interviews ahead of me for In One Person, I guarantee you half the people will say, ”This is an autobiographical book. This guy wrestled for 20 years with a homoerotic attraction to other wrestlers.” I already know I’m going to be teased by my former teammates…. Was I ever gay or bi? No, but did I ever have unwelcome and sort of gripping crushes on the older boys — like probably half of the people who went to all-boys schools did? Sure, I did. There were older wrestlers I thought were kind of godlike. Typical of the time, I hated myself for being attracted to males of any kind — but I knew what it felt like to be attracted to males. I knew what it felt like to be attracted to women, too, including my friends’ mothers and faculty wives and all number of unlikely people.